Friday, April 24, 2009

Ohio State students with disabilities highlight positives of learning from a disability

From The Lantern, the student newspaper at Ohio State University:

Six Ohio State students paneled an open discussion April 22 about their disabilities.

OSU's Mount Leadership Society held its workshop "True Life: I have a disability" in the Royer living room. During the session, attendees never ran out of questions about life with a disability, as the members of the panel told stories that highlighted their abilities in spite of daily obstacles.

Josiah Lanning, a fourth-year in security intelligence and Middle Eastern studies, was a panel member. Although he recognizes that his confinement to a wheelchair does impair his ability to be as independent as others, he hasn't let that change his career plan, to work for the FBI.

Sumin Lee, a first-year in middle childhood education, is also confined to a wheelchair. She moved to the U.S. from Korea, and although she said she is shy, she urged the audience members to feel more comfortable around people with disabilities.

Lee said she considers herself lucky to go to school at OSU because when she was in Korea there weren't many accessible facilities.

"When I was little, my mom had to carry me on her back to elementary [school] every single day," Lee said.

Chris Gerbetz, a third-year in landscape architecture, is hearing impaired. He said large groups can make him uncomfortable, but his social skills flourished. He spoke about good-looking girls he talks to and his courage in situations where people have discriminated against him.

Benzion Chinn, a graduate student in the History Department, had the group laughing at some of the bizarre situations he's gotten into because of his Asperger's syndrome. Once, he said, police were called on him for the exaggerated motions he was making while speaking. He was only asking his professor a question about his test, but someone had mistaken his demeanor as threatening.

He said he has difficulty processing social information, such as body language.

"So when people are silent and I am just talking on and on about 16th century religion wars, I assume that people are really, really interested," Chinn said. "On the flip side, what I am very good with is analytical forms of information, particularly text."

He joked about how convenient this is for all the reading he has to do in the pursuit of his Ph.D.

Caitlin Po, a first-year in chemistry, spoke about her severe dyslexia. She discussed how the parts of her brain responsible for functions other than reading, like math and science, seem to have accelerated in response. She is taking advantage of this as a student in the Scholars Program.

"I wouldn't be who I am today if I wasn't dyslexic. I would be a totally different person and I don't want to be a different person. I like who I am," Po said.

Josh Mann, a fourth-year in human nutrition, is legally blind. He has to make many arrangements for his classes, such as large-print tests and machines that magnify books.

Although being vision-impaired has inconvenienced him, he has picked up other valuable life skills. For example, Mann is the president of his martial arts club. He says it has increased his balance and his awareness of himself and his surroundings.

He has also adjusted to keep up with note-taking in spite of his blindness.

"I've been blessed with a mind that works similarly to a tape recorder," Mann said.

All of the students on the panel had their own story of resilience and optimism. They spoke highly of Ohio Disability Services and the university's accommodations for their obstacles.

Alexa Odom, a first-year in journalism and Spanish, helped organize the event as a member of Mount Leadership Society. She said the members of the group found the issue important because they didn't know much about disabled students on campus. After the program, she said she was enlightened about other people's views of the disabled, and how those people aren't defined by the obstacles of their daily life.

"It made me realize it's really not about what they can't do," Odom said.